Travel isn’t always about crossing long distances, passport stamps or even trying something different – the experience is all that matters. And in the age of photo-based social media, that experience needs to tie in with snapable locale.
That’s the reason local attractions like Maropeng and The Lion Park have not lost their sparkle – they provide a packaged experience that will satisfy even the most ardent Instagrammer.
And these experiences cost a lot less that an island vaycay or a strenuous hike up Lion’s Head.
THE LION PARK
What can you buy for R100 million? Turns out one of central South Africa’s most popular tourist destinations!
The Lion and Safari Park might have bid their prime location next to Malibongwe Drive in Randburg, Johannesburg farewell – but their new location close to Hartbeespoort has more bush (and is still a quick drive from Johannesburg and Pretoria).
The Lion Park in its previous incarnation was a favourite among international tourists (and celebrities) and the new park seems to have kept its lustre. When visiting near the end of 2016, mere months after the opening at its new spot, the park was already brimming with international tourists with flashy DSLR cameras hanging from their necks.
The park now provides a more authentic safari experience, with a relatively unspoilt drive. You can opt for a self-drive, or sit back and relax in one of the park’s safari vehicles (with knowledgeable guides telling you everything you need to know).
The park also opened new restaurants in its main area.
The Bull and Buck Grill is more of a fine dining experience (with some pretty great food, I might add) while the Wetlands restaurant and bar offers more options to those craving pub and grub staples like pizza, beer and burgers. A little-known fact about the park is that entering the main area is absolutely free, which means these restaurants are open to the general public.
The managers hope that, eventually, the Hartbeespoort community will start supporting the restaurants like normal neighbourhood spots. The main reason to visit the park, however, is the animals.
Now, you might have heard that Lion and Safari Park offers a number of animal interactions – something that has become a topic of debate. The controversial tourism practice is unfortunately not going away anytime soon, and it’s quite sad.
At the current park, the animal interactions happen in such an unnatural, sterilised environment, the reason why the practice is so loathed becomes clear.
Unfortunately, people line up to pet lion cubs with sickening grins, and it is quite apparent why the park is still offering these interactions – it supports many families who are employed at the park. But the park does have a plan to stop interactions and currently uses the valuable money coming in from the practice to fund programmes that help put a cork in interactive animal tourism.
The lion cubs here only interact with humans for three months of their lives under strict rules. They are also monitored for stress, and left alone when they show signs of aggression.
The best places for photographs
- Giraffe feeding: It’s not often you get to interact at eye-level with these anomalies of nature. Except for the food, entrance to the feeding platform is free and although this is animal interaction, the giraffes roam freely through the park when they are not hungry.
- On the road: The park is massive, and you are obligated to snap a selfie as you scout for animals. Brown and white lion, wild dog, cheetah and over 20 different African wildlife species, including zebra, gemsbok, springbuck, blesbuck, sable, nyala and meerkat.
The Cradle of Humankind is an exciting place and it’s distressing to know few city dwellers from Johannesburg and Pretoria have never visited it. At the epicentre of the Cradle is Maropeng, a multi-faceted attraction that merges tourism, hospitality and history effortlessly.
The latest addition to the visitors’ centre is the new temporary exhibition, Dinosaurs of the Veld: Meet South Africa’s Ruling Reptiles.
Dinosaurs of the Veld offers insight into the much larger group of animals to which dinosaurs once belonged and which lived in South Africa approximately 250 million years ago. This group, known as archosaurs (which means “ruling reptiles”) includes ancient reptiles, crocodiles, dinosaurs and birds. South Africa has many fossils of each of these incredible beasts – fossils that visitors to Maropeng can now see.
Dinosaurs can be divided into three major groups: Sauropodomorpha, ornithischia and theropoda. Sauropodomorpha were famous for their long necks, tiny heads and elephantine limbs (yes, Brontosaurus belonged to this group) and South Africa was home to the iconic Massospondylus carinatus, which will take centre stage at the exhibition. When it comes to ornithischia dinosaurs, South Africa had several early members of this group, including Lesothosaurus and Heterodontosaurus.
Both were relatively small animals, weighing less than a medium-sized dog.
Finally, footprints of Southern Africa’s theropods can be found at certain points along South Africa’s border with Lesotho, and scientists now know that today’s birds all descended from theropod dinosaurs about 150 million years ago.
Visitors to Dinosaurs of the Veld will learn about the palaeontological process involved in unearthing these incredible fossils from the rock and sediment that held them captive for so long. They will also see wonderful fossils of these creatures, and learn about their existence and demise.
Entrance to the exhibition is included in the normal Maropeng ticket price or combined ticket price for Maropeng and the Sterkfontein Caves.
The best place for photographs
- The water ride: Maropeng has a fun indoor tube ride that gives you an overview how the earth was formed and how it evolved. It’s a fun way to start your Maropeng visit and will also excite you for what is to come. The main exhibition is endless fun for all ages.
- The new exhibition: Dinosaur fossils are cool, so make sure to snap a selfie at Dinosaurs of the Veld: Meet South Africa’s Ruling Reptiles. ɳ The entrance: Maropeng visitors’ centre is an architectural marvel, and you are required to snap a picture of the entrance.
- The hotel: Maropeng is also home to a boutique, ultra-chic hotel. Rooms have unspoiled views of the Magaliesberg Mountains.